Top Bhutan general, 2 judges held for plot to overthrow military, judiciary leaders

Defendants in the case appearing at the Thimphu district court on Feb 17, 2021.
Defendants in the case appearing at the Thimphu district court on Feb 17, 2021.PHOTO: KUENSEL/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

THIMPU (AFP) - Police in Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom famed for its happiness index, have detained a top general and two judges over an alleged plot to overthrow the country's top military officer and chief justice.

The allegations about the conspiracy to take over top jobs in the army and judiciary have rocked the tiny country of 750,000 people jammed between India and China that prides itself on its clean-cut image.

Former royal bodyguard commandant Thinley Tobgay, Supreme Court judge Kuenley Tshering and top district court judge Yeshey Dorji appeared in court on Wednesday (Feb 17) after being detained at their homes.

The three have been accused of plotting to overthrow the country's top military officer, Lieutenant-General Batoo Tshering, by implicating him in a corruption scandal.

All were denied bail by the Thimphu district court and remanded in custody until a first formal hearing on Feb 27.

According to reports, Tobgay was alleged to have illegally obtained military documents on the procurement of vehicles from the United Nations.

The Bhutanese newspaper said that while the tender was handled publicly and fairly, the documents were to be used to undermine the position of the military No. 1.

Other reports said the plot by the three men was revealed to authorities by a woman detained a few months ago.

The three "friends" wanted to take over as military leader, chief justice of the Supreme Court and attorney-general, the reports said.

Lt-Gen Batoo Tshering has been Bhutan's chief operations officer for more than a decade.

The country is known as a tourist paradise in the Himalayas and for its happiness index, which was developed in the 1970s after a former king ruled that "gross national happiness is more important than gross domestic product".

The index seeks to give equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being, and elements have since been taken up by leading international economists and politicians.